DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters or their setting. That honor belongs to Tollin/Robbins, the WB, DC Comics (or is it Marvel?), and a whole host of others. I'm simply borrowing them to play with them and will put them back when I'm done.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I should warn you that this is a bit rough. As in, it's barely gotten a once over, I've been in an angsty mood for a while, and it was written after a night where I got very little sleep. In other words, read at your own risk <g>. Actually, I don't even know where this came from, I was up too early and feeling antsy, and the first sentence popped into my mind. And, now, here we are. It is, as much as anything, another of my experiments with the 2nd person POV. I find it strangely compelling these days. As always, feedback welcome if you're so inclined. Even if just to tell me that it sucks.
SEASON: set maybe four years after the series finale.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Through the Dark
By ocean gazer
The world is all sharp edges and dark corners, and you grimace as you step gingerly down the alleyway. The wind is chill as it bites through your coat and you can't help but shiver. Three AM in the dead of winter is no time to be out wandering the streets and you ask yourself for probably the hundredth time what you're doing, why you're here.
The most obvious answer to that question is well obvious. You're out here fighting crime, walking your very own beat on New Gotham's streets. With Barbara's voice in your ear and Helena's presence never more than ten minutes away, you're out here every night, trying to hold the forces of evil at bay. It's the life you wanted when you found yourself here in the city, chasing the phantom women you'd seen in your visions; it's the life you dreamed about to stave off the boredom of high school; it's the life you worked so hard for when you graduated and could finally start training full time.
You stop dead in your tracks, listening hard above the wail of the wind, eyes scanning the darkness and senses on full alert. The noise was barely audible, but it was definitely there. Concentrating hard, you barely jump when you spot the cause: a feral cat messily dispatching its prey. It occurs to you with a tinge of sadness that even a year ago, you would have squirmed away from the sight of the kill, been unable to stomach the blood and the reminder of the law of the jungle. Now, it's just a part of your daily life. You've seen too much, done too much. You aren't the same person you once were.
You know what Helena would say about that. She's said it more than once. "You've grown up on us, Kid." Even now, you can hear the note of admiration in her voice. She's proud of you, proud that you don't blink at using force, that you can hold your own in a fight, that you do what needs to be done and don't spend hours debating its morality the way Barbara did, the way Barbara still does. Actually, you do spend hours debating it. You just don't talk about it.
As you move farther into the alleyway, automatically scanning for anything that doesn't fit, for any sign of criminal life, your thoughts turn back to your mentor. She also seems pleased with your "growth" as a crime fighter. It doesn't surprise you. Barbara is a do-gooder through and through. Sure, she likes the rush of adrenaline the night life brings with it, but she continues to soldier on despite everything she's lost because she's a true believer in the cause. The woman believes in justice and believes in sacrificing the few to protect the many. Of course she's proud that she has you and Helena to follow in her footsteps, to continue her crusade.
Reaching the end of the alley with nary a rapist or cat burglar in sight, you turn and retrace your steps. You hesitate briefly when you come back to the junction where the alley and street meet. Instead of turning to the right and following your proscribed path, you use your telekinesis to float yourself up from the ground to land on a fire escape ledge overlooking the street. Instantly, you hear Barbara's concerned voice in your ear. You don't really listen to the words. You already know she's asking what happened, since there are no obvious sounds of a fight and no obvious reason for you to have stopped.
"No, everything is fine, Oracle. It's really quiet tonight and I just needed a little break."
You think briefly about turning off the comms, but don't. Instead, through long practice, you tune out the sound of her fingers tapping away on the keyboard, the soft comments she directs to both you and Helena. You brace your hands on the metal rail of the fire escape and lean forward, looking out over the skyline. Ok, so you're supposed to continue scanning the streets below, ever vigilant. But it's ten degrees below zero too cold for the normal miscreants to be out wreaking havoc. And every super-villain who has ever threatened New Gotham is safely locked away in Arkham Asylum. You figure it's safe enough to just sightsee for a moment. After all, you're out here every single night, and only rarely do you get to enjoy the city.
And you realize with no little bit of surprise that it really is a beautiful place. It's so easy to forget that. You're down in the dirty, gritty sectors, dealing with the scum of the earth. You see the neglected parts, the abandoned places, the hopeless corners. You see the violence, the pain, the despair, and the endless capacity humans have to hurt and menace one another. So, as you look out over the tall buildings with their twinkle of lights, it's a bit of a surprise to be reminded that there's a whole other world out there. A world where people speak civilly to one another, where there are hugs and puppy dogs and laughter. Where people have jobs and do their duty and go home to their spouses and children. Where jealousy, greed, and negativity are tempered by tolerance, kindness, and love.
You blink against the cold night air, your eyes fixed on some bank building across town where a Christmas star still shines and little green lights still spell out, "Happy Holidays." When did the positive side of life become something you had to struggle to remember? When did it become normal for you to think the world was an evil place?
When did the life you thought you wanted, the life that Helena and Barbara wanted for you, turn into something that you hate?
Hate. You almost lose your grip on the railing as you roll that verb around in your mind. It's the first time you've really let yourself so much as think the word and it scares you no little bit that it feels so right. You've known for a while that you weren't all that happy, but you chalked it up to exhaustion and stress. You assumed it was part of the adjustment process that every meta-human vigilante type went through. Lord knows Helena lashed out at the world for years and had angst issues up the yin-yang. And it wasn't all about her mother.
Hearing Barbara's concerned voice, wondering if you're ok since you've been still for so long, you let yourself float back to the ground, after one more look at the decorated bank building. Assuring her that you're fine, knowing that she isn't sure if she should believe you, you snap back into your role and resume your sweep grid. It's a pattern you know by heart, and while you keep your eyes and ears on the job, your mind wanders freely since you have just enough precognitive abilities to know there is nothing out here tonight to worry about.
It's almost like a light bulb turning on in your brain, to realize just exactly what it is you're feeling about the life you're living. It should scare you to realize that you hate what you're doing, hate what you're becoming. But it doesn't. It's almost a sense of relief. You've been avoiding the revelation for months, throwing yourself into "the life" and telling yourself that you were doing something important, something good. It is important, that much is for sure. And you know that you and Helena and Barbara are doing good-with-a-capital-G out here, keeping the streets safe for the ordinary, innocent citizens.
But somehow, somewhere along the way, you've lost your innocence. It would have faded away over time, to be sure, since it's not an easy trait to hold onto in a cynical and pessimistic world. You just don't think it would have disappeared as completely as it has now. You don't even blink anymore when you kill someone. Granted, you only kill in self-defense and it's invariably another scum-sucking pig who dies when you do have to go that far. Still, there's something wrong when you can't even summon up any sorrow or guilt for a life lost at your hands, when all you feel is numb. You feel numb about pretty much everything these days. Oh sure, you manage to have a good time with Helena, laughing and smiling when you're horsing around in the Clocktower. And you have enjoyable times with Barbara where you're both working on projects together. But it's a façade, a shell of what you have been. And it's not what you want to be.
You make another right turn, your eyes roaming over the row of dumpsters next to the public housing complex. And just like every night, you see the familiar figures of the homeless, huddling between the metallic boxes, desperate for what little shelter they give. Most of the human bundles of rags are sleeping, their breathing harsh in the cold air. But, as usual, there are a few who are awake, and you give them your usual nod as you walk past. They're used to you, as you are to them. When did people sleeping in the street turn into a normal sight for you?
You were so certain that this was what you wanted. That you wanted to follow in your mother's footsteps; that you wanted to be a hero like Huntress and Batgirl. That you wanted to go out and get the bad guys and make them face justice. You wanted it so much that you ran away on the strength of a vision and focused all your energy into learning skills that would let you fight and survive in this world of darkness.
Now that you have it, you realize you don't want it. Not because it's inherently bad. This world of the night is a world that is perfect for Helena, perfect for Barbara and was perfect for your mother. They thrive on the secrecy, on the rush of adrenaline, on the idea of life on the edge. And you you don't. It isn't you.
Maybe it was at first, when you felt pride at helping keep the criminal element from terrorizing the city. Back before you killed anyone, back when you saw this as a noble calling. Now, it's just a necessary evil. You go out and you beat up the bad guys and you deliver them to jail. Then you come home and fall into bed and never once feel like you did anything worth your while. Your brain tells you it was that without you fighting and patrolling, there would be a lot more rape and robbery victims roaming around the city. You know that's true. But you also wonder if you'd feel a lot better about yourself if you weren't constantly using violence to fight against violence.
You're not stupid. You do realize that there are some truly evil people out there The Joker and Harley Quinn come to mind who could only have been stopped by serious, brute force. But there's a part of you that sees a cycle that doesn't seem to end. You, Helena, and Barbara stem the tide of violence and get some of the perpetrators off the streets. But all you're doing is maintaining a balance of sorts. You aren't really doing anything to break the cycle.
You think you'd be happier with yourself, with your life, if you were fighting with your brain and your heart instead of with your hands. If your contribution to the world was something proactive rather than something reactive.
With no small degree of surprise, you realize you're standing across from the Clocktower, that you've reached the end of your route. You glance up, seeing a dark figure on the balcony. You almost manage a smile knowing that Helena beat you home for once. She usually gets sidetracked by the 24 hour deli over on 4th and Patterson. The almost-smile quickly fades as you realize you don't want to go inside just yet, don't want to listen to the endless stories about not-quite adventures, don't want to hear the endless questions about what you saw or noticed. You're freezing and your feet hurt and you want to slip into a nice hot bath for at least an hour. But you don't want to go inside and have to deal with your new realizations about the life you live.
So you speak softly into your comms, watching Helena watch you from the balcony. You know she's confused about why you're just standing there. You talk quickly to Barbara, tell her that you're ramped up and have some energy to burn and you're going to head over to No Man's Land. You hear the approving sounds she makes, since she's said clearly that she wants you to get out and mingle a little more with other metas, meet more of "your own kind." And you see the way Helena leans over the railing, her arm waving wildly in encouragement before she abruptly turns and heads for the warmth inside.
Two years ago, neither of them would have bought your little story. Well, it's not really a story you are going to No Man's Land. With the GPS in your comm system, Barbara would know immediately if you went somewhere else. Even though you've turned the microphone link off, she still can track you. So that part is true enough. You're just not going there to mingle or burn off energy. And it bothers you no little bit that neither of them thought to wonder, that you've learned to shield yourself so completely. They're the two people in the world you're closest to. They should be able to read you and your moods, even when no one else can. It bothers you to realize just how completely you've shut them out.
You walk quickly to ward off the cold, arriving at your destination in record time. Slipping in the door and sliding with practiced ease past the throng of people dancing and playing pool and generally enjoying themselves, you make your way over to the bar counter and the bartender who always seems to be on duty. Gibson seems to know your moods better these days than either of the two people you live and work with, and he doesn't say anything as he hands you a huge mug of cocoa, spiked liberally with Bailey's Irish Cream. You muster up a ghost of a smile for him and he turns concerned eyes on you. He asks what's wrong and you almost don't answer. But he's been there for you ever since you moved to Gotham and he's listened to your woes when Helena and Barbara were both too buried in their own problems to deal with yours. You owe him something.
Your voice is soft. "Have you ever felt like you've made all the wrong choices and gotten yourself into a situation you don't want to be in and don't know how to get out of?"
You aren't sure what to expect in his eyes, since you know how much he admires both Helena and Barbara, and their vigilante life. So when you see compassion in his gaze and feel his fingers caressing the back of your hand, you find that you're surprised. He leans forward, his breath against your ear. "Do you think I wanted to be a bartender when I was a kid?"
He pulls away and you blink in surprise, since you'd expected something more. You know he can read your reaction because there's a tiny spark of amusement in his eyes, though the compassion remains. You feel like you should say something, but you don't know what questions to ask, and he is just smiling at you enigmatically. You frown, and he leans forward again. You aren't sure what you're expecting, but it isn't what you hear.
"Sometimes, you can't find what you want until you've learned the hard way what you don't."
And with that, he kisses your forehead and smiles at you as he walks over to help another customer. You aren't sure whether to be offended that his concern for you vanished so quickly, or relieved that he doesn't seem to think it's serious enough for in-depth follow-up.
You grab your mug, leaving a few dollar bills on the counter, and make your way to your favorite overstuffed chair in the corner. You set your cocoa on the end table next to you and exchange a bare nod with the three other people sitting in this little nook with you. Two of them turn back to their notebooks, aspiring writers both. You've talked briefly with them before. The other one is new to you, but she's huddled over her book and you sense that she has less interest in interaction than you do, and is trying even harder to be invisible.
Taking a long sip of the drink and feeling the burn against the back of your throat, you relax into the chair, your mind still spinning as you watch the throb of life around you. There's a spark of something here that you're missing in your own life. You aren't sure if it's happiness, per se. You aren't sure what, exactly, to call it. You just know most of the people here have it, and you don't. All you have is a sense of numbness, and a sense that the life you'd wrapped around you like a bubble of safety has popped.
You watch the dancers, making up crazy, more-than-human moves that would probably get them banned from a real dance club. Your eyes wander over to the couch on the other side of the room. There are two girls there, cuddled up against each other, mouths meeting in soft, sweet kisses. They're probably older than you are, but you think of them as girls because they seem so much younger, so much less jaded. You aren't sure what about them makes you think of Helena and Barbara, other than the obvious cues of red hair and deep blue eyes. But your thoughts turn to your teammates, to their unstated feelings for each other.
You've known since day one that the two women loved each other in a way that went past friendship, despite the presence of both Wade and Jesse. You've watched them dance carefully around the subject, and watched them both keep their hearts carefully under wraps. At first, you couldn't figure out why. You thought maybe it was some sense of shame because they were both women. But in the last couple of years, you've figured it out. It's got nothing to do with that and everything to do with "the life." They've both lost too many people they've cared about. Denying their feelings for each other, and having only shallow feelings for the people they date, is a form of protection for both of them. You figured that out during the battle with Harley Quinn in the Clocktower. You saw it in their faces, and read it in their minds when you hugged them and cried with relief that they were safe.
You take another sip of cocoa, welcoming the slow burn of the Bailey's. You can't help but watch the two girls on the couch, showing their feelings openly, and it makes you want to cry. Not just for Helena and Barbara. For you too. You realize here, now, that you've been consciously turning off your feelings ever since that battle with Quinn. You saw in the example of your teammates that feelings could be a liability in your line of work, and tried to learn from their example to keep yours under wraps the same way they both did. And yet there's a part of you that longs for what these girls have; that longs to love and be loved.
You don't want to be like Helena and Barbara, focused on crime fighting to the exclusion of all else. They seem happy enough with their status quo, with the lives they're living. But you don't want to live your life alone and lonely. Ok, so you aren't entirely alone. You do have your teammates and the people here. And somehow, despite all the secrets you've had to keep from her, you still have Gabby as a friend. You aren't as close as you once were, and she's going to college out of state. But there's still a bond there between you. Of course, that's probably because she's still a little in love with you. You smile slightly at the thought, then sober up rapidly. You're still a little in love with her too. You've just been pushing it aside, believing nothing could ever come of it. She lives in a different world than you do, and she's on a different path. You have too many secrets to keep from her and she's not a part of this world you've chosen.
And right now, you're wondering why on earth you have chosen this. You aren't happy with it. Living on the edge is not for you. Watching these girls seeing their tender and sweet affection the walls you've built of denial and self-sacrifice start to crumble. You realize fiercely that you want a life that's at least somewhat normal. Not that your life will ever be entirely normal, since you are a meta-human and have lived on the edge too long to completely go back to the solid middle. But there are degrees of normalcy, and some might be within your grasp.
Still, you don't know for sure that it's even an option. Not anymore. Have you gone too far, changed too much? Have your experiences as a vigilante put too many scars on your soul for you to even try and go back? Can you undo the choices you've made?
And then there's the million dollar question. Will Barbara and Helena lose their respect for you if you do walk away?
You realize how scared you are by the mere idea.
Still, Barbara always says "the life" is too heavy a burden to bear unwilling. You know she'll understand if you want to walk away. And Helena, despite her wise-cracks and teasing, has also said more than once that it's not the lifestyle for everyone. Remembering these words ones that you'd scorned at the time you heard them since you never thought they'd be relevant to you makes you feel at least a little less anxious.
Suddenly in need of air, you get up and leave your unfinished drink on the table, walking out the door. You gulp in the cold night air, wincing as it burns your chest. You start to walk back to the Clocktower, feet moving slowly. Despite the realizations of the night, you know you're not ready to make any sudden moves. Giving up one life and starting over from scratch is not something that you can do on a whim. You're not that adventurous. You need to think about it and come to some honest conclusions about who you and who you want to be, about the path that's best for you. You've spent so much time chasing your mother's ghost and trying to emulate the women in your vision that you've never really thought about what you wanted for yourself. And it's not like your foster family ever encouraged that sort of thing.
Still, as you look up at the sky growing brighter under the veil of dawn, you realize that for the first time in months, you feel like a burden has been lifted. You feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You don't know what comes next or whether you can find a way to keep working with your teammates and yet have something approaching a normal life as well. You don't have a single answer, only a wellspring of questions. And yet just the ability to finally ask the questions, to finally see that there are other options for your future, makes you feel less trapped. You didn't realize just how much you felt locked into this life, stifled by the choices you'd made, feeling like you had no other options. Now, even if you choose to stay where you are and to keep doing what you're doing, it's freeing to know it will be after you've looked at other options, after you've considered other paths. It won't be because you blindly kept going.
And you realize, as you walk through the door of the Clocktower building and hit the "up" button for the elevator, you're feeling something else you haven't felt in months.
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